COVID19: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Natasha Sharma, a 4th Year medical student from Gauhati Medical College, Assam, India. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

January 16, 2021 was a historic day for the Indian healthcare infrastructure. After conducting several dry runs and extensive training, the Government initiated and funded COVID-19 vaccination became operational and witnessed vaccination of the highest number of beneficiaries covered anywhere in the world on the first day.

With the approximately 1.88 billion doses of covid-19 vaccine administered in India until April 2022, about 62% of the population is fully vaccinated according to Government statistics. How, one may wonder, was such a feat achieved by a developing country with 1.4 billion mouths to feed? It was no easy task, yet it was very easy.

India has the largest network of ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists), community women with basic public health training and duties, who are responsible, more than the professionally trained healthcare workers, to promote and educate about health the remote and illiterate masses. They penetrate rural households, and their advice on medical matters are revered more than WHO or federal government issued health advisories. It was them, who, along with the countless other grassroots level health care workers, and support staff made this mammoth achievement possible.

What motivated these people to tirelessly work in the communities and what motivated the masses to come out and get vaccinated in such large numbers? In a country where the Prime Minister gets himself vaccinated on live television, within a month of launching the vaccination drive, and who repeatedly addresses the nation and keeps reminding them of the principle of “prevention is better than the cure”, where almost all political leaders, regardless of difference in party opinions promote vaccination at each and every opportunity and above all, in the land of Bollywood, where celebrities are worshipped, watching your heroes get vaccinated is motivation enough to get up and out of the house to get vaccinated.

Communication in the right mode, at the right time, via the right channel is crucial for getting important messages broadcasted. While mass media will always be the preferred choice, in a country which still doesn’t have 100% cable or internet coverage, a majority of the population has overcome their inhibitions about the COVID-19 vaccine not by reading WHO myth-busters or government billboards, but because their neighbourhood aunt, who doubles as an ASHA, or their distant cousin’s cousin who is a healthcare worker, has reassured them that the vaccine is safe. In a country which values relationships and believes in brotherhood, the best communication is over a cup of tea with news brought by a relative from the big city.

When the media keeps reminding the masses of the cripplingly overburdened healthcare system, that’s motivation enough to want to take preventive steps. What India did right was, not let the fear for the COVID-19 vaccine take root. There weren’t many defensive stances needed to realign public mistrust, but rather, a transparent campaign promoting it, with subtle hints of vaccine mandates in public sector jobs. Leaders leading by example and people trusting personally delivered advice worked, where others failed.

About the author

Natasha Sharma is a 4th Year medical student from Gauhati Medical College, Assam, India. She was a member of UNESCO-MSAI Bioethics Unit for last term, and she is currently the Chairperson of the Bioethics Unit at Rotaract Club of the Caduceus, youth wing of the Rotary Club of Bombay Central. She is passionate about Bioethics, and advocate for sexual and reproductive rights. She is involved in research, and hopes to pursue a future in public health. She loves penning her thoughts down but seldom publishes formal writing. She is an avid reader and reads fiction whenever she can.

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